With Jumpstart 2022 now out in the wild, Magic: The Gathering has finally completed what was by far its most hectic year yet. Stacked with releases, Secret Lairs, Commander decks, and even a 30th Anniversary controversy, 2022 has been a lot for the MTG community. It also had a lot of good stuff too, though. Many of this year’s sets were incredible, we got all kinds of new staples to play with, and we even got a much-anticipated return to a setting we never thought we’d see again.
Although Magic is weird and runs its years from Autumn-to-Autumn, for this ranking we’re going by the calendar. If it had booster packs released in 2022 – meaning no Secret Lairs, or we’d be here until 2024 – it’s eligible. Yes, even Innistrad: Double Feature. Speaking of…
9. Innistrad: Double Feature
The first release of 2022 was also by far its worst. I didn’t rate the two Innistrad sets too highly last year, so what better way to kick off the year than smashing them together in a single draft set with an ugly-as-hell monochromatic filter plastered on every card?
Innistrad: Double Feature was such a missed opportunity. It could’ve combined the best of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow into a single draft environment, given them new, movie-inspired art to go with that black-and-white aesthetic, and thrown in some reprints of older favourites. Instead, we had the entirety of both thrown together, meaning you had double the chance of pulling shared commons like Evolving Wilds.
The black and filter looked awful too, as much of the art wasn’t designed with it in mind. Sometimes it was washed out, other times it was pitch black. And at double the price of a regular booster, I (Midnight) hunted down one pack out of curiosity and (Crimson) vowed never to again.
Before getting into why Unfinity was such a let-down, it’s worth pointing out I actually like stickers. The glue was a bit flimsy, and you couldn’t reuse them more than a few times, but stickers filled a hole in Magic’s design it had been struggling with for years, and I hope we see it tried in a more serious setting later on.
Unfinity missed the mark in a few ways. The first was the art style – ‘retrofuturistic space carnival’ should’ve been a home run, but the showcase art felt more like a 2006 flash cartoon and less like The Jetsons, and the regular art felt too in service to ‘the joke’ and not enough on building up the Astrotorium as an engaging setting.
It was a pain to play, too. With 2 different extra decks needed, and cards that had you do everything from start an auction with the people in the room to post a selfie on social media, it frequently prioritised goofs and gags over games that took less than eight working days to complete.
7. Commander Legends: Battle For Baldur’s Gate
Had it just been Dungeons & Dragons: Battle For Baldur’s Gate, this would’ve been fine. A decent, if slightly low-power follow-up to 2021’s Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, it explored one of D&D’s most popular settings and gave us cards for its biggest names.
Mechanically, it was a lot of fun. Backgrounds were a cool way to work around the complexity problem of adding more partners to Commander’s card pool, and the initiative is a neat new take on mechanics like monarch to encourage combat. It had plenty of good cards too, like the Ancient Dragons and a much-needed reprint of Deadly Dispute.
The problem was the name; Commander Legends was a massively beloved set, and this had big boots to fill being the successor that it just wasn’t able to pull off. It lacked many of the powerful reprints that made Commander Legends so popular, and being limited to a single, non-Magic setting prevented it from having the breadth of lore the original was able to play with.
It doesn’t help that it and Double Masters 2022 launched so close to each other, as the latter then brought the big-money cards people were really expecting to be here. It left a sour taste in people’s mouths before Baldur’s Gate even had time to prove itself.
6. Streets Of New Capenna
New Capenna was the set I was most excited for this year, so it hurts placing it this low. This was meant to be a glitzy, sexy, violet art-deco gangster set, full of sharp suits and sharper blades. Every bit of concept art we’d seen before had been absolutely incredible, and uncovering the five crime families at the heart of the city was a treat.
But for all that personality, I came away from Streets of New Capenna feeling a bit deflated. One set wasn’t enough space to develop the setting fully. It didn’t help that the set had to be split between the five families, meaning none of them had a particularly strong thematic or mechanical underpinning. We had some cool mechanics, like blitz and casualty, but then the Cabaretti was stuck with ‘creature landfall’ and the Brokers just had a new, temporary type of indestructibility.
Had New Capenna been given a second set to breathe, we could’ve looked much more into what makes this city tick. As it is, we were gone from its streets before it settled in, and its relatively poor performance means there’s a slim chance we’ll be heading back to that world any time soon. Talk about a waste.
5. The Brothers’ War
I wasn’t expecting to like Dominaria United or The Brothers’ War as much as I did. After the sparkly new worlds of Kamigawa and New Capenna, going back to Dominaria felt like an overly safe choice, and two sets in a row there didn’t get my hype engines running either.
The Brothers’ War introduced one of the coolest new mechanics of the year in prototype, giving you a way to throw out hulking artifact creatures for lower costs. Its draft environment was perhaps the most fun of the year too, as it tried to do something different without bogging itself down in complexity. It was quick, aggressive, and used the exciting retro artifact reprints as a way to bolster power levels. As someone who generally doesn’t enjoy drafting, I had a whale of a time.
It did feel a bit bloated though. Between the retro frame artifact reprints, the serialised cards, The List in Set Boosters, a Commander-centric subset, and the tie-in Transformers cards, there was almost no room for the main Brothers’ War to shine. It was hard for you to work out which cards were legal in which formats, and the inclusion of a Universes Beyond cross-promotional scheme in what was meant to be a big celebration of Magic’s lore felt off.
4. Jumpstart 2022
The final set of the year should've been a smash hit. The original Jumpstart in 2020 was a hugely popular set, introducing a whole new limited format that allowed beginners and veteran players to play on equal footing. Full of powerful reprints and creative themes, it was the unfortunate victim of poor timing, being a new in-person format launched at the height of the 2020 lockdowns.
Jumpstart 2022 gives us everything we'd want from a successor. There's even more reprints, new themes, and even alt-art anime art to spice up booster packs. Unfortunately, the alt-art is some of the worst we've had this year, ranging from just bland to outright disturbing.
It's also a victim of circumstance, as Jumpstart 2022 launched at the end of an absolutely packed quarter that saw, among other things, the introduction of per-set Jumpstart boosters. People were confused about which products were Jumpstart 2022 and which weren't, which, on top of release fatigue from a brutal schedule, meant interest in it felt much more muted than it should have.
3. Dominaria United
Before The Brothers’ War, we had a trip to the present-day with Dominaria United. As mentioned, I wasn’t entirely jazzed for it, but was open-minded to see what Magic’s home setting could offer.
Despite my reluctance, Dominaria United managed to bring an incredible story, with Karn, Jaya, Ajani and co. playing The Thing with Phyrexian sleeper agents. It was shockingly tense and ended in heartbreak, making it the narrative highpoint of the year. The cards matched this excitement too, with things like Defiler of Vigor, Vesuvan Duplimancy, and Braids, Arisen Nightmare giving Standard a nice power level bump.
Dominaria United faltered in its draft environment, which felt slightly too complicated. Balancing all five colours in a single deck was hard work, making the domain mechanic either a feel-bad for not getting its full value, or too fiddly to get online. Especially after the three-colour struggles of New Capenna, it felt like a long time before we had a good, simple, clean limited format.
2. Double Masters 2022
This might be a controversial pick for second place. Double Masters 2022 was an expensive set to buy, and it launched so quickly after Baldur’s Gate that it killed any interest people may have had in that set. Despite that, Double Masters was the set this year I enjoyed cracking packs for, purely because it was high-value reprint after high-value reprint.
Smothering Tithe, Dockside Extortionist, Teferi’s Protection, Mind Drain, Mana Vault, Sensei’s Divining Top; the list of otherwise expensive staples reprinted in Double Masters 2022 goes on and on. The alt-art was particularly exciting, as it saw the return of older Magic artists, some of whom haven’t contributed to the game in decades. I still look at cards like Phil Foglio’s Chaos Warp and am thrilled that they even saw print in a 2022 set.
Sometimes you need a product that jingles your Magpie brain, and Double Masters 2022 did that expertly. Opening a box of it was a treat I’m likely not going to repeat any time soon, but getting home from Commandfest and cracking 2X2 packs still sticks out as one of my fondest Magic memories of the year.
1. Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
Of course Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty was going to take the top spot. Kamigawa wasn’t just a set, it was an event, complete with anime trailers, manga, and even a visual novel to make the release feel special. After years of fans campaigning, we were finally back to the Japanese-inspired setting we’d last explored in 2005.
But instead of the feudal warring that defined the poorly received original Kamigawa sets, the world was reimagined as a cyberpunk dystopia. Kami and spirits ran rampant alongside computers and holograms in the game’s first-ever Sci-fi set. It was the most out-there world Magic has ever attempted, and it was nearly flawless in execution.
It was one of the best gameplay environments we’d seen this year. Modified batching together three frequently used mechanics made it an immediate favourite for all kinds of decks, and we still see cards with reconfigure played outside of Standard to this day.
With just one set, Wizards managed to completely repair Kamigawa’s image. It’s gone from the setting we’d least likely ever return to, to one we want to see come back as soon as possible. Neon Dynasty isn’t just the best set of the year, it’s also one of the greatest Magic: The Gathering sets of all time.
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